Tech & Digitalisation

The TBI Globalism Study: How Does Social Media Use Affect People's Views?

Report17th December 2020

Chapter 1

As part of the TBI Globalism Study – a global polling project conducted by YouGov in collaboration with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the Guardian and researchers at the University of Cambridge – we asked respondents about whether they use social media to discuss or read about current affairs, as well as their views on several notable conspiracies. This section of the survey is particularly interesting at this moment in time because – as vaccines for Covid-19 begin to be rolled out and anti-vaccination misinformation is at its most dangerous – content moderation on social media is an urgent priority for policymakers. The dataset, covering Britain, France, Germany and the US, also indicates views on wider issues such as identity, political trust and globalisation.

We are sharing this data because it supports some interesting hypotheses for future research, but it should be treated with caution rather than as a basis for definitive conclusions. Participants in the survey were selected from an online panel, which may overrepresent social-media use, with fieldwork done between July and August 2020. We have also excluded self-reported “moderate” and “light” users from the analysis below, focusing only on contrasting the two extremes (heavy and non-users) which are more clearly demarcated. Self-reported non-users may also in fact be heavy social-media users, just not for finding out about current affairs, so it is difficult to discern specific drivers of opinion. We acknowledge these limitations but nevertheless believe these insights offer an interesting perspective on a highly topical and policy-relevant issue.

Chapter 2

Generally, heavy social-media users were more likely to believe in both coronavirus-related and globalism-based conspiracies compared to non-users. However, in all four countries a significant portion of non-users still held conspiracy views, suggesting that policy responses must go beyond platform regulation alone. People in Britain were also significantly less likely to believe in conspiracies, irrespective of social-media use, compared to those in France, Germany and the US.

Although heavy social-media use was associated with a higher propensity for believing conspiracy theories, data on light and moderate users – excluded from the charts below as they are not sufficiently reliable to draw definitive conclusions – suggested that there may not be a linear relationship: Heavy users were less likely to believe conspiracies than moderate users. While it is not possible to say reliably that heavy social-media use builds a higher level of “misinformation immunity” compared to light and moderate users, this broader data should caution against those who argue that “abstinence is the cure”.

Would you say the following statement is true or false? (chart 1). Thinking about coronavirus...As far as you know, are each of the following statements true or false? (charts 2, 3, 4). (Please select from one option on each row: Definitely true/Probably true/Probably false/Definitely false/Don't know.)

Chapter 3

A significant majority of people across all countries thought there was discrimination against women, senior citizens, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual and people who are transgender or non-binary. This was also true of the white working class, but to a lesser extent. While heavy social-media users were more likely to perceive that there was discrimination than non-users, consistently strong majorities among the latter group suggest that identity divisions may not be quite as prevalent online as they are often interpreted to be.

Generally speaking, how much discrimination would you say there is, if any, against each of the following in [Country] today? (Please select one option on each row) Women; Men; Senior Citizens; Ethnic minorities; Religious minorities; People who are gay, lesbian or bisexual; People who are transgender or non-binary; The white working class.

Chapter 4

Heavy social-media users were less trusting of governments and the authorities and were more likely to believe “a lot of important information is deliberately concealed from the public out of self-interest” compared to non-users. Across all four countries, higher social-media users were also more likely to believe that people who disagree with them are likely to be misinformed. However, only in the US and France did more people agree with this statement than disagree overall (regardless of how much they used social media).

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (Please select one option on each row: Strongly agree/Tend to agree/Neither agree nor disagree/Tend to disagree/Strongly disagree/Don't know.)

Chapter 5

Heavy social-media users were more likely to believe globalisation had been good for the national economy, their local area’s economy, their standard of living and the cultural life of the country. This holds true in all four countries, though the gap is largest in the US and significantly smaller in Germany. In all four countries, globalisation was seen as more bad than good for the level of crime and the environment, with no major differences associated with social-media use.

The word 'globalisation' is sometimes used to describe the trend towards a global economy and the way countries have developed closer interaction with each other, making it easier for companies and people to live, work, trade and travel overseas. From what you know, do you think this process has been generally good or bad for each of the following? [Country]'s economy; Your local area's economy; Your own standard of living; The cultural life in [country].

Editor's Note:

Social Media Use Survey Question: Generally speaking, how often, if at all, do you use social media to discuss or read about current affairs? (Several times a day or more / Once a day / Every few days / Once a week / Less than once a week / Not applicable - I do not use social media to discuss or read about current affairs.)

Some data in charts and text may also vary slightly due to rounding. Participants for the survey were selected from an online panel, which should be taken into account in responses to questions about online activities, particularly in countries with low levels of internet access. More information about the research and results can be found here:

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